Friday, March 19, 2004

Stars have been the youngsters

Sure-things Wilson, Haynes struggling

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DUNEDIN, Fla. - The ERA of the Reds' starting pitchers has gone from 3.67 to 4.63 over the last two days.

That's the bad news, Reds fans.

The good news? If spring training ended today, the club could go north with a rotation with a collective spring ERA of 2.20.

Of the seven pitchers competing for spots in the rotation, five - Jose Acevedo, Brandon Claussen, Aaron Harang, Cory Lidle and Jesus Sanchez - have pitched extremely well.

But the two pitchers who have struggled - Paul Wilson and Jimmy Haynes - are two the Reds want in the rotation because they are veterans with guaranteed contracts.

While the Reds prefer a rotation that includes Haynes, Wilson and Lidle, the other veteran with a guaranteed contract, they say performance will be the determining factor.

"We'd like it to work out how we originally planned it," Reds general manager Dan O'Brien said.

Pitching coach Don Gullett said you shouldn't read too much into spring training numbers.

"You'd like to see them do well," Gullett said. "But you're going to have the dead-arm period where they don't have a lot of life on their stuff."

Gullett thinks the dead-arm syndrome came into play in the last outings of Wilson and Claussen.

Wilson gave up five runs in four innings in Wednesday's 7-3 loss to the New York Yankees. Claussen gave up four runs in three innings in Thursday's 7-2 loss to Toronto.

"Their stuff wasn't as crisp as it's been," Gullett said. "We didn't see the real quick arm action."

Haynes was the other starter to get beat around the last two days. He allowed three runs on four hits in two innings in the Reds' 11-1 loss to Pittsburgh Wednesday.

Haynes is a special case because he spent the first three weeks of camp strengthening his core muscles - the Reds were afraid the condition would lead to back trouble - and not throwing. He won't be judged until he pitches more innings.

There are 17 games left in spring training, and the Reds will use most of them to sort out the rotation.

"I'll tell you what," Reds manager Dave Miley said. "It could happen that way."

The Reds may take their time with the decision. But it's hard to imagine a rotation without Harang, Acevedo and Lidle.

Harang, a 25-year-old right-hander, followed Claussen Thursday and was impressive again. He went four innings, allowing an unearned run on three hits. He struck out three and walked none. For the spring, he has struck out 10 and walked none.

Acevedo, a 26-year-old right-hander, has been good in all three outings this spring. He is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA. He's allowed only eight hits, struck out 11 and walked none in 11 innings.

Lidle, a 32-year-old right-hander, is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA. He's coming off a five-inning, one-run performance in his last start.

Claussen, a 24-year-old left-hander, had his worst outing this spring Thursday, but still impressed Miley with his presence on the mound.

Claussen gave up three runs in the first, then stranded a runner at second in the second inning and left the bases loaded in the third.

"He could have thrown in the towel after the first," Miley said. "But he battled."

"It was one of those days," Claussen said. "They were jumping on my fastball. It was the only thing I could throw for strikes."

Still, Claussen's other three outings were good enough that he still has to be considered for the rotation.

Sanchez, a 29-year-old lefty in camp as a non-roster free agent, is the wild card in the mix.

He hasn't given up a run over seven innings. But he's 23-32 with a 5.26 ERA in 159 big league games.

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